Saturday, March 04, 2006



One of the many interesting features of the premier classics blog, Rogueclassicism, is the daily collection of Classical Words of the Day. One source for Classical Words of the Day is Anu Garg's A.Word.A.Day. A.Word.A.Day for March 1, 2006 was mulligrubs, which I did not see included in Classical Words of the Day.

But despite its outlandish appearance, there might be a classical forerunner to mulligrubs, defined by A.Word.A.Day as follows:
mulligrubs (MUL-i-grubz) noun
1. Grumpiness; colic; low spirits.

2. An ill-tempered person.
[From mulliegrums, apparently from megrims (low spirits).]
I believe that mulliegrums here is a misprint for mulligrums. The Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. mulligrubs, dates its first appearance in English to 1599, but says simply "fanciful formation," with no other derivation. Webster's Dictionary (1913) says "Cf. Prov. E. mull to squeeze, pull about, mulling numb or dull," but the American Heritage Dictionary agrees with A.Word.A.Day in connecting mulligrubs to megrims.

And megrims itself? That's where the classical connection comes in. The Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. migraine, says:
1373, megrim, from O.Fr. migraigne (13c.), from vulgar pronunciation of L.L. hemicrania "pain in one side of the head, headache," from Gk. hemikrania, from hemi- "half" + kranion "skull." The M.E. form was re-spelled 1777 on Fr. model.
So the etymological chain seems to be this:Mulligrubs. An interesting word, and a new one for me. Now, instead of saying "I'm depressed," I can say "I've got the mulligrubs."

Update: I'm indebted to Mike Webb, who sent via email the Oxford English Dictionary entry on mulligrubs. According to the OED, the origin of the word is uncertain. The first citation, from Thomas Nashe, spells the word mulliegrums, so I was wrong when I said that was a misprint. Here are the OED definitions, without citations:
1. In pl. Now chiefly regional.
a. A state or fit of depression; low spirits. Also: a bad temper or mood. In early use in (in) his (also her, etc.,) mulligrubs.

b. Stomach-ache, colic; diarrhoea. In early use in sick of the mulligrubs.
2. A fit or bout of mulligrubs. Obs. rare.

3. A sulky or ill-tempered person. Now Eng. regional.
I can't resist quoting one of the OED's examples, from c1750:
M. PALMER Dialogue in Devonshire Dial. (1837) 5 A call'd her a purting glum-pot, zed her'd got the mulligrubs.
Glum-pot is also a good description of a melancholy person.

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